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Tiresias: The Ancient Mediterranean Religions Source Database



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Tacitus, Histories, 3.56.1
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1. Livy, History, 22.57.2-22.57.7 (1st cent. BCE - 1st cent. BCE)

2. Tacitus, Annals, 4.1.1, 6.28, 12.43.1, 12.64.1, 13.24.1-13.24.2, 13.58, 15.44.1-15.44.2, 15.47.1-15.47.2, 16.13.1 (1st cent. CE - 2nd cent. CE)

4.1.1.  The consulate of Gaius Asinius and Gaius Antistius was to Tiberius the ninth year of public order and of domestic felicity (for he counted the death of Germanicus among his blessings), when suddenly fortune disturbed the peace and he became either a tyrant himself or the source of power to the tyrannous. The starting-point and the cause were to be found in Aelius Sejanus, prefect of the praetorian cohorts. of his influence I spoke above: now I shall unfold his origin, his character, and the crime by which he strove to seize on empire. Born at Vulsinii to the Roman knight Seius Strabo, he became in early youth a follower of Gaius Caesar, grandson of the deified Augustus; not without a rumour that he had disposed of his virtue at a price to Apicius, a rich man and a prodigal. Before long, by his multifarious arts, he bound Tiberius fast: so much so that a man inscrutable to others became to Sejanus alone unguarded and unreserved; and the less by subtlety (in fact, he was beaten in the end by the selfsame arts) than by the anger of Heaven against that Roman realm for whose equal damnation he flourished and fell. He was a man hardy by constitution, fearless by temperament; skilled to conceal himself and to incriminate his neighbour; cringing at once and insolent; orderly and modest to outward view, at heart possessed by a towering ambition, which impelled him at whiles to lavishness and luxury, but oftener to industry and vigilance — qualities not less noxious when assumed for the winning of a throne. 6.28.  In the consulate of Paulus Fabius and Lucius Vitellius, after a long period of ages, the bird known as the phoenix visited Egypt, and supplied the learned of that country and of Greece with the material for long disquisitions on the miracle. I propose to state the points on which they coincide, together with the larger number that are dubious, yet not too absurd for notice. That the creature is sacred to the sun and distinguished from other birds by its head and the variegation of its plumage, is agreed by those who have depicted its form: as to its term of years, the tradition varies. The generally received number is five hundred; but there are some who assert that its visits fall at intervals of 1461 years, and that it was in the reigns, first of Sesosis, then of Amasis, and finally of Ptolemy (third of the Macedonian dynasty), that the three earlier phoenixes flew to the city called Heliopolis with a great escort of common birds amazed at the novelty of their appearance. But while antiquity is obscure, between Ptolemy and Tiberius there were less than two hundred and fifty years: whence the belief has been held that this was a spurious phoenix, not originating on the soil of Arabia, and following none of the practices affirmed by ancient tradition. For — so the tale is told — when its sum of years is complete and death is drawing on, it builds a nest in its own country and sheds on it a procreative influence, from which springs a young one, whose first care on reaching maturity is to bury his sire. Nor is that task performed at random, but, after raising a weight of myrrh and proving it by a far flight, so soon as he is a match for his burden and the course before him, he lifts up his father's corpse, conveys him to the Altar of the Sun, and consigns him to the flames. — The details are uncertain and heightened by fable; but that the bird occasionally appears in Egypt is unquestioned. 12.43.1.  Many prodigies occurred during the year. Ominous birds took their seat on the Capitol; houses were overturned by repeated shocks of earthquake, and, as the panic spread, the weak were trampled underfoot in the trepidation of the crowd. A shortage of corn, again, and the famine which resulted, were construed as a supernatural warning. Nor were the complaints always whispered. Claudius, sitting in judgement, was surrounded by a wildly clamorous mob, and, driven into the farthest corner of the Forum, was there subjected to violent pressure, until, with the help of a body of troops, he forced a way through the hostile throng. It was established that the capital had provisions for fifteen days, no more; and the crisis was relieved only by the especial grace of the gods and the mildness of the winter. And yet, Heaven knows, in the past, Italy exported supplies for the legions into remote provinces; nor is sterility the trouble now, but we cultivate Africa and Egypt by preference, and the life of the Roman nation has been staked upon cargo-boats and accidents. 12.64.1.  In the consulate of Marcus Asinius and Manius Acilius, it was made apparent by a sequence of prodigies that a change of conditions for the worse was foreshadowed. Fire from heaven played round the standards and tents of the soldiers; a swarm of bees settled on the pediment of the Capitol; it was stated that hermaphrodites had been born, and that a pig had been produced with the talons of a hawk. It was counted among the portents that each of the magistracies found its numbers diminished, since a quaestor, an aedile, and a tribune, together with a praetor and a consul, had died within a few months. But especial terror was felt by Agrippina. Disquieted by a remark let fall by Claudius in his cups, that it was his destiny first to suffer and finally to punish the infamy of his wives, she determined to act — and speedily. First, however, she destroyed Domitia Lepida on a feminine quarrel. For, as the daughter of the younger Antonia, the grand-niece of Augustus, the first cousin once removed of Agrippina, and also the sister of her former husband Gnaeus Domitius, Lepida regarded her family distinctions as equal to those of the princess. In looks, age, and fortune there was little between the pair; and since each was as unchaste, as disreputable, and as violent as the other, their competition in the vices was not less keen than in such advantages as they had received from the kindness of fortune. But the fiercest struggle was on the question whether the domit influence with Nero was to be his aunt or his mother: for Lepida was endeavouring to captivate his youthful mind by a smooth tongue and an open hand, while on the other side Agrippina stood grim and menacing, capable of presenting her son with an empire but not of tolerating him as emperor. 13.24.1.  At the end of the year, the cohort usually present on guard at the Games was withdrawn; the objects being to give a greater appearance of liberty, to prevent the troops from being corrupted by too close contact with the licence of the theatre, and to test whether the populace would continue its orderly behaviour when its custodians were removed. A lustration of the city was carried out by the emperor at the recommendation of the soothsayers, since the temples of Jupiter and Minerva had been struck by lightning. 13.58.  In the same year, the tree in the Comitium, known as the Ruminalis, which eight hundred and thirty years earlier had sheltered the infancy of Remus and Romulus, through the death of its boughs and the withering of its stem, reached a stage of decrepitude which was regarded as a portent, until it renewed its verdure in fresh shoots. 15.44.1.  So far, the precautions taken were suggested by human prudence: now means were sought for appeasing deity, and application was made to the Sibylline books; at the injunction of which public prayers were offered to Vulcan, Ceres, and Proserpine, while Juno was propitiated by the matrons, first in the Capitol, then at the nearest point of the sea-shore, where water was drawn for sprinkling the temple and image of the goddess. Ritual banquets and all-night vigils were celebrated by women in the married state. But neither human help, nor imperial munificence, nor all the modes of placating Heaven, could stifle scandal or dispel the belief that the fire had taken place by order. Therefore, to scotch the rumour, Nero substituted as culprits, and punished with the utmost refinements of cruelty, a class of men, loathed for their vices, whom the crowd styled Christians. Christus, the founder of the name, had undergone the death penalty in the reign of Tiberius, by sentence of the procurator Pontius Pilatus, and the pernicious superstition was checked for a moment, only to break out once more, not merely in Judaea, the home of the disease, but in the capital itself, where all things horrible or shameful in the world collect and find a vogue. First, then, the confessed members of the sect were arrested; next, on their disclosures, vast numbers were convicted, not so much on the count of arson as for hatred of the human race. And derision accompanied their end: they were covered with wild beasts' skins and torn to death by dogs; or they were fastened on crosses, and, when daylight failed were burned to serve as lamps by night. Nero had offered his Gardens for the spectacle, and gave an exhibition in his Circus, mixing with the crowd in the habit of a charioteer, or mounted on his car. Hence, in spite of a guilt which had earned the most exemplary punishment, there arose a sentiment of pity, due to the impression that they were being sacrificed not for the welfare of the state but to the ferocity of a single man. 15.47.1.  At the close of the year, report was busy with portents heralding disaster to come — lightning-flashes in numbers never exceeded, a comet (a phenomenon to which Nero always made atonement in noble blood); two-headed embryos, human or of the other animals, thrown out in public or discovered in the sacrifices where it is the rule to kill pregt victims. Again, in the territory of Placentia, a calf was born close to the road with the head grown to a leg; and there followed an interpretation of the soothsayers, stating that another head was being prepared for the world; but it would be neither strong nor secret, as it had been repressed in the womb, and had been brought forth at the wayside. 16.13.1.  Upon this year, disgraced by so many deeds of shame, Heaven also set its mark by tempest and disease. Campania was wasted by a whirlwind, which far and wide wrecked the farms, the fruit trees, and the crops, and carried its fury to the neighbourhood of the capital, where all classes of men were being decimated by a deadly epidemic. No outward sign of a distempered air was visible. Yet the houses were filled with lifeless bodies, the streets with funerals. Neither sex nor age gave immunity from danger; slaves and the free-born populace alike were summarily cut down, amid the laments of their wives and children, who, themselves infected while tending or mourning the victims, were often burnt upon the same pyre. Knights and senators, though they perished on all hands, were less deplored — as if, by undergoing the common lot, they were cheating the ferocity of the emperor. In the same year, levies were held in Narbonese Gaul, Africa, and Asia, to recruit the legions of Illyricum, in which all men incapacitated by age or sickness were being discharged from the service. The emperor alleviated the disaster at Lugdunum by a grant of four million sesterces to repair the town's losses: the same amount which Lugdunum had previously offered in aid of the misfortunes of the capital.
3. Tacitus, Histories, 1.2-1.4, 1.3.2, 1.10.3, 1.27.1, 1.86, 2.1.1, 2.3-2.4, 2.50.2, 2.78, 2.91.1, 3.71-3.72, 4.61, 4.81-4.84, 5.2-5.10 (1st cent. CE - 2nd cent. CE)

1.86.  Prodigies which were reported on various authorities also contributed to the general terror. It was said that in the vestibule of the Capitol the reins of the chariot in which Victory stood had fallen from the goddess's hands, that a superhuman form had rushed out of Juno's chapel, that a statue of the deified Julius on the island of the Tiber had turned from west to east on a bright calm day, that an ox had spoken in Etruria, that animals had given birth to strange young, and that many other things had happened which in barbarous ages used to be noticed even during peace, but which now are only heard of in seasons of terror. Yet the chief anxiety which was connected with both present disaster and future danger was caused by a sudden overflow of the Tiber which, swollen to a great height, broke down the wooden bridge and then was thrown back by the ruins of the bridge which dammed the stream, and overflowed not only the low-lying level parts of the city, but also parts which are normally free from such disasters. Many were swept away in the public streets, a larger number cut off in shops and in their beds. The common people were reduced to famine by lack of employment and failure of supplies. Apartment houses had their foundations undermined by the standing water and then collapsed when the flood withdrew. The moment people's minds were relieved of this danger, the very fact that when Otho was planning a military expedition, the Campus Martius and the Flaminian Way, over which he was to advance, were blocked against him was interpreted as a prodigy and an omen of impending disaster rather than as the result of chance or natural causes. 2.3.  The founder of the temple, according to ancient tradition, was King Aerias. Some, however, say that this was the name of the goddess herself. A more recent tradition reports that the temple was consecrated by Cinyras, and that the goddess herself after she sprang from the sea, was wafted hither; but that the science and method of divination were imported from abroad by the Cilician Tamiras, and so it was agreed that the descendants of both Tamiras and Cinyras should preside over the sacred rites. It is also said that in a later time the foreigners gave up the craft that they had introduced, that the royal family might have some prerogative over foreign stock. Only a descendant of Cinyras is now consulted as priest. Such victims are accepted as the individual vows, but male ones are preferred. The greatest confidence is put in the entrails of kids. Blood may not be shed upon the altar, but offering is made only with prayers and pure fire. The altar is never wet by any rain, although it is in the open air. The representation of the goddess is not in human form, but it is a circular mass that is broader at the base and rises like a turning-post to a small circumference at the top. The reason for this is obscure. 2.4.  After Titus had examined the treasures, the gifts made by kings, and all those other things which the Greeks from their delight in ancient tales attribute to a dim antiquity, he asked the oracle first with regard to his voyage. On learning that his path was open and the sea favourable, he slew many victims and then questioned indirectly about himself. When Sostratus, for such was the priest's name, saw that the entrails were uniformly favourable and that the goddess favoured great undertakings, he made at the moment a brief reply in the usual fashion, but asked for a private interview in which he disclosed the future. Greatly encouraged, Titus sailed on to his father; his arrival brought a great accession of confidence to the provincials and to the troops, who were in a state of anxious uncertainty. Vespasian had almost put an end to the war with the Jews. The siege of Jerusalem, however, remained, a task rendered difficult and arduous by the character of the mountain-citadel and the obstinate superstition of the Jews rather than by any adequate resources which the besieged possessed to withstand the inevitable hardships of a siege. As we have stated above, Vespasian himself had three legions experienced in war. Mucianus was in command of four in a peaceful province, but a spirit of emulation and the glory won by the neighbouring army had banished from his troops all inclination to idleness, and just as dangers and toils had given Vespasian's troops power of resistance, so those of Mucianus had gained vigour from unbroken repose and that love of war which springs from inexperience. Both generals had auxiliary infantry and cavalry, as well as fleets and allied kings; while each possessed a famous name, though a different reputation. 2.78.  After Mucianus had spoken, the rest became bolder; they gathered about Vespasian, encouraged him, and recalled the prophecies of seers and the movements of the stars. Nor indeed was he wholly free from such superstitious belief, as was evident later when he had obtained supreme power, for he openly kept at court an astrologer named Seleucus, whom he regarded as his guide and oracle. Old omens came back to his mind: once on his country estate a cypress of conspicuous height suddenly fell, but the next day it rose again on the selfsame spot fresh, tall, and with wider expanse than before. This occurrence was a favourable omen of great significance, as the haruspices all agreed, and promised the highest distinctions for Vespasian, who was then still a young man. At first, however, the insignia of a triumph, his consulship, and his victory over Judea appeared to have fulfilled the promise given by the omen; yet after he had gained these honours, he began to think that it was the imperial throne that was foretold. Between Judea and Syria lies Carmel: this is the name given to both the mountain and the divinity. The god has no image or temple — such is the rule handed down by the fathers; there is only an altar and the worship of the god. When Vespasian was sacrificing there and thinking over his secret hopes in his heart, the priest Basilides, after repeated inspection of the victim's vitals, said to him: "Whatever you are planning, Vespasian, whether to build a house, or to enlarge your holdings, or to increase the number of your slaves, the god grants you a mighty home, limitless bounds, and a multitude of men." This obscure oracle rumour had caught up at the time, and now was trying to interpret; nothing indeed was more often on men's lips. It was discussed even more in Vespasian's presence — for men have more to say to those who are filled with hope. The two leaders now separated with clear purposes before them, Mucianus going to Antioch, Vespasian to Caesarea. Antioch is the capital of Syria, Caesarea of Judea. 3.71.  Martialis had hardly returned to the Capitol when the soldiers arrived in fury. They had no leader; each directed his own movements. Rushing through the Forum and past the temples that rise above it, they advanced in column up the hill, as far as the first gates of the Capitoline citadel. There were then some old colonnades on the right as you go up the slopes; the defenders came out on the roofs of these and showered stones and tiles on their assailants. The latter had no arms except their swords, and they thought that it would cost too much time to send for artillery and missiles; consequently they threw firebrands on a projecting colonnade, and then followed in the path of the flames; they actually burned the gates of the Capitol and would have forced their way through, if Sabinus had not torn down all the statues, memorials to the glory of our ancestors, and piled them up across the entrance as a barricade. Then the assailants tried different approaches to the Capitol, one by the grove of the asylum and another by the hundred steps that lead up to the Tarpeian Rock. Both attacks were unexpected; but the one by the asylum was closer and more threatening. Moreover, the defenders were unable to stop those who climbed through neighbouring houses, which, built high in time of peace, reached the level of the Capitol. It is a question here whether it was the besiegers or the besieged who threw fire on the roofs. The more common tradition says this was done by the latter in their attempts to repel their assailants, who were climbing up or had reached the top. From the houses the fire spread to the colonnades adjoining the temple; then the "eagles" which supported the roof, being of old wood, caught and fed the flames. So the Capitol burned with its doors closed; none defended it, none pillaged it. 3.72.  This was the saddest and most shameful crime that the Roman state had ever suffered since its foundation. Rome had no foreign foe; the gods were ready to be propitious if our characters had allowed; and yet the home of Jupiter Optimus Maximus, founded after due auspices by our ancestors as a pledge of empire, which neither Porsenna, when the city gave itself up to him, nor the Gauls when they captured it, could violate — this was the shrine that the mad fury of emperors destroyed! The Capitol had indeed been burned before in civil war, but the crime was that of private individuals. Now it was openly besieged, openly burned — and what were the causes that led to arms? What was the price paid for this great disaster? This temple stood intact so long as we fought for our country. King Tarquinius Priscus had vowed it in the war with the Sabines and had laid its foundations rather to match his hope of future greatness than in accordance with what the fortunes of the Roman people, still moderate, could supply. Later the building was begun by Servius Tullius with the enthusiastic help of Rome's allies, and afterwards carried on by Tarquinius Superbus with the spoils taken from the enemy at the capture of Suessa Pometia. But the glory of completing the work was reserved for liberty: after the expulsion of the kings, Horatius Pulvillus in his second consulship dedicated it; and its magnificence was such that the enormous wealth of the Roman people acquired thereafter adorned rather than increased its splendour. The temple was built again on the same spot when after an interval of four hundred and fifteen years it had been burned in the consulship of Lucius Scipio and Gaius Norbanus. The victorious Sulla undertook the work, but still he did not dedicate it; that was the only thing that his good fortune was refused. Amid all the great works built by the Caesars the name of Lutatius Catulus kept its place down to Vitellius's day. This was the temple that then was burned. 4.61.  Civilis, in accordance with a vow such as these barbarians frequently make, had dyed his hair red and let it grow long from the time he first took up arms against the Romans, but now that the massacre of the legions was finally accomplished, he cut it short; it was also said that he presented his little son with some captives to be targets for the child's arrows and darts. However, he did not bind himself or any Batavian by an oath of allegiance to Gaul, for he relied on the resources of the Germans, and he felt that, if it became necessary to dispute the empire with the Gauls, he would have the advantage of his reputation and his superior power. Munius Lupercus, commander of a legion, was sent, among other gifts, to Veleda. This maiden of the tribe of the Bructeri enjoyed extensive authority, according to the ancient German custom, which regards many women as endowed with prophetic powers and, as the superstition grows, attributes divinity to them. At this time Veleda's influence was at its height, since she had foretold the German success and the destruction of the legions. But Lupercus was killed on the road. A few of the centurions and tribunes of Gallic birth were reserved as hostages to assure the alliance. The winter quarters of the auxiliary infantry and cavalry and of the legions were pulled down and burned, with the sole exception of those at Mainz and Vindonissa. 4.81.  During the months while Vespasian was waiting at Alexandria for the regular season of the summer winds and a settled sea, many marvels continued to mark the favour of heaven and a certain partiality of the gods toward him. One of the common people of Alexandria, well known for his loss of sight, threw himself before Vespasian's knees, praying him with groans to cure his blindness, being so directed by the god Serapis, whom this most superstitious of nations worships before all others; and he besought the emperor to deign to moisten his cheeks and eyes with his spittle. Another, whose hand was useless, prompted by the same god, begged Caesar to step and trample on it. Vespasian at first ridiculed these appeals and treated them with scorn; then, when the men persisted, he began at one moment to fear the discredit of failure, at another to be inspired with hopes of success by the appeals of the suppliants and the flattery of his courtiers: finally, he directed the physicians to give their opinion as to whether such blindness and infirmity could be overcome by human aid. Their reply treated the two cases differently: they said that in the first the power of sight had not been completely eaten away and it would return if the obstacles were removed; in the other, the joints had slipped and become displaced, but they could be restored if a healing pressure were applied to them. Such perhaps was the wish of the gods, and it might be that the emperor had been chosen for this divine service; in any case, if a cure were obtained, the glory would be Caesar's, but in the event of failure, ridicule would fall only on the poor suppliants. So Vespasian, believing that his good fortune was capable of anything and that nothing was any longer incredible, with a smiling countece, and amid intense excitement on the part of the bystanders, did as he was asked to do. The hand was instantly restored to use, and the day again shone for the blind man. Both facts are told by eye-witnesses even now when falsehood brings no reward. 4.82.  These events gave Vespasian a deeper desire to visit the sanctuary of the god to consult him with regard to his imperial fortune: he ordered all to be excluded from the temple. Then after he had entered the temple and was absorbed in contemplation of the god, he saw behind him one of the leading men of Egypt, named Basilides, who he knew was detained by sickness in a place many days' journey distant from Alexandria. He asked the priests whether Basilides had entered the temple on that day; he questioned the passers-by whether he had been seen in the city; finally, he sent some cavalry and found that at that moment he had been eighty miles away: then he concluded that this was a supernatural vision and drew a prophecy from the name Basilides. 4.83.  The origin of this god has not yet been generally treated by our authors: the Egyptian priests tell the following story, that when King Ptolemy, the first of the Macedonians to put the power of Egypt on a firm foundation, was giving the new city of Alexandria walls, temples, and religious rites, there appeared to him in his sleep a vision of a young man of extraordinary beauty and of more than human stature, who warned him to send his most faithful friends to Pontus and bring his statue hither; the vision said that this act would be a happy thing for the kingdom and that the city that received the god would be great and famous: after these words the youth seemed to be carried to heaven in a blaze of fire. Ptolemy, moved by this miraculous omen, disclosed this nocturnal vision to the Egyptian priests, whose business it is to interpret such things. When they proved to know little of Pontus and foreign countries, he questioned Timotheus, an Athenian of the clan of the Eumolpidae, whom he had called from Eleusis to preside over the sacred rites, and asked him what this religion was and what the divinity meant. Timotheus learned by questioning men who had travelled to Pontus that there was a city there called Sinope, and that not far from it there was a temple of Jupiter Dis, long famous among the natives: for there sits beside the god a female figure which most call Proserpina. But Ptolemy, although prone to superstitious fears after the nature of kings, when he once more felt secure, being more eager for pleasures than religious rites, began gradually to neglect the matter and to turn his attention to other things, until the same vision, now more terrible and insistent, threatened ruin upon the king himself and his kingdom unless his orders were carried out. Then Ptolemy directed that ambassadors and gifts should be despatched to King Scydrothemis — he ruled over the people of Sinope at that time — and when the embassy was about to sail he instructed them to visit Pythian Apollo. The ambassadors found the sea favourable; and the answer of the oracle was not uncertain: Apollo bade them go on and bring back the image of his father, but leave that of his sister. 4.84.  When the ambassadors reached Sinope, they delivered the gifts, requests, and messages of their king to Scydrothemis. He was all uncertainty, now fearing the god and again being terrified by the threats and opposition of his people; often he was tempted by the gifts and promises of the ambassadors. In the meantime three years passed during which Ptolemy did not lessen his zeal or his appeals; he increased the dignity of his ambassadors, the number of his ships, and the quantity of gold offered. Then a terrifying vision appeared to Scydrothemis, warning him not to hinder longer the purposes of the god: as he still hesitated, various disasters, diseases, and the evident anger of the gods, growing heavier from day to day, beset the king. He called an assembly of his people and made known to them the god's orders, the visions that had appeared to him and to Ptolemy, and the misfortunes that were multiplying upon them: the people opposed their king; they were jealous of Egypt, afraid for themselves, and so gathered about the temple of the god. At this point the tale becomes stranger, for tradition says that the god himself, voluntarily embarking on the fleet that was lying on the shore, miraculously crossed the wide stretch of sea and reached Alexandria in two days. A temple, befitting the size of the city, was erected in the quarter called Rhacotis; there had previously been on that spot an ancient shrine dedicated to Serapis and Isis. Such is the most popular account of the origin and arrival of the god. Yet I am not unaware that there are some who maintain that the god was brought from Seleucia in Syria in the reign of Ptolemy III; still others claim that the same Ptolemy introduced the god, but that the place from which he came was Memphis, once a famous city and the bulwark of ancient Egypt. Many regard the god himself as identical with Aesculapius, because he cures the sick; some as Osiris, the oldest god among these peoples; still more identify him with Jupiter as the supreme lord of all things; the majority, however, arguing from the attributes of the god that are seen on his statue or from their own conjectures, hold him to be Father Dis. 5.2.  However, as I am about to describe the last days of a famous city, it seems proper for me to give some account of its origin. It is said that the Jews were originally exiles from the island of Crete who settled in the farthest parts of Libya at the time when Saturn had been deposed and expelled by Jove. An argument in favour of this is derived from the name: there is a famous mountain in Crete called Ida, and hence the inhabitants were called the Idaei, which was later lengthened into the barbarous form Iudaei. Some hold that in the reign of Isis the superfluous population of Egypt, under the leadership of Hierosolymus and Iuda, discharged itself on the neighbouring lands; many others think that they were an Egyptian stock, which in the reign of Cepheus was forced to migrate by fear and hatred. Still others report that they were Assyrian refugees, a landless people, who first got control of a part of Egypt, then later they had their own cities and lived in the Hebrew territory and the nearer parts of Syria. Still others say that the Jews are of illustrious origin, being the Solymi, a people celebrated in Homer's poems, who founded a city and gave it the name Hierosolyma, formed from their own. 5.3.  Most authors agree that once during a plague in Egypt which caused bodily disfigurement, King Bocchoris approached the oracle of Ammon and asked for a remedy, whereupon he was told to purge his kingdom and to transport this race into other lands, since it was hateful to the gods. So the Hebrews were searched out and gathered together; then, being abandoned in the desert, while all others lay idle and weeping, one only of the exiles, Moses by name, warned them not to hope for help from gods or men, for they were deserted by both, but to trust to themselves, regarding as a guide sent from heaven the one whose assistance should first give them escape from their present distress. They agreed, and then set out on their journey in utter ignorance, but trusting to chance. Nothing caused them so much distress as scarcity of water, and in fact they had already fallen exhausted over the plain nigh unto death, when a herd of wild asses moved from their pasturage to a rock that was shaded by a grove of trees. Moses followed them, and, conjecturing the truth from the grassy ground, discovered abundant streams of water. This relieved them, and they then marched six days continuously, and on the seventh seized a country, expelling the former inhabitants; there they founded a city and dedicated a temple. 5.4.  To establish his influence over this people for all time, Moses introduced new religious practices, quite opposed to those of all other religions. The Jews regard as profane all that we hold sacred; on the other hand, they permit all that we abhor. They dedicated, in a shrine, a statue of that creature whose guidance enabled them to put an end to their wandering and thirst, sacrificing a ram, apparently in derision of Ammon. They likewise offer the ox, because the Egyptians worship Apis. They abstain from pork, in recollection of a plague, for the scab to which this animal is subject once afflicted them. By frequent fasts even now they bear witness to the long hunger with which they were once distressed, and the unleavened Jewish bread is still employed in memory of the haste with which they seized the grain. They say that they first chose to rest on the seventh day because that day ended their toils; but after a time they were led by the charms of indolence to give over the seventh year as well to inactivity. Others say that this is done in honour of Saturn, whether it be that the primitive elements of their religion were given by the Idaeans, who, according to tradition, were expelled with Saturn and became the founders of the Jewish race, or is due to the fact that, of the seven planets that rule the fortunes of mankind, Saturn moves in the highest orbit and has the greatest potency; and that many of the heavenly bodies traverse their paths and courses in multiples of seven. 5.5.  Whatever their origin, these rites are maintained by their antiquity: the other customs of the Jews are base and abominable, and owe their persistence to their depravity. For the worst rascals among other peoples, renouncing their ancestral religions, always kept sending tribute and contributions to Jerusalem, thereby increasing the wealth of the Jews; again, the Jews are extremely loyal toward one another, and always ready to show compassion, but toward every other people they feel only hate and enmity. They sit apart at meals, and they sleep apart, and although as a race, they are prone to lust, they abstain from intercourse with foreign women; yet among themselves nothing is unlawful. They adopted circumcision to distinguish themselves from other peoples by this difference. Those who are converted to their ways follow the same practice, and the earliest lesson they receive is to despise the gods, to disown their country, and to regard their parents, children, and brothers as of little account. However, they take thought to increase their numbers; for they regard it as a crime to kill any late-born child, and they believe that the souls of those who are killed in battle or by the executioner are immortal: hence comes their passion for begetting children, and their scorn of death. They bury the body rather than burn it, thus following the Egyptians' custom; they likewise bestow the same care on the dead, and hold the same belief about the world below; but their ideas of heavenly things are quite the opposite. The Egyptians worship many animals and monstrous images; the Jews conceive of one god only, and that with the mind alone: they regard as impious those who make from perishable materials representations of gods in man's image; that supreme and eternal being is to them incapable of representation and without end. Therefore they set up no statues in their cities, still less in their temples; this flattery is not paid their kings, nor this honour given to the Caesars. But since their priests used to chant to the accompaniment of pipes and cymbals and to wear garlands of ivy, and because a golden vine was found in their temple, some have thought that they were devotees of Father Liber, the conqueror of the East, in spite of the incongruity of their customs. For Liber established festive rites of a joyous nature, while the ways of the Jews are preposterous and mean. 5.6.  Their land is bounded by Arabia on the east, Egypt lies on the south, on the west are Phoenicia and the sea, and toward the north the people enjoy a wide prospect over Syria. The inhabitants are healthy and hardy. Rains are rare; the soil is fertile; its products are like ours, save that the balsam and the palm also grow there. The palm is a tall and handsome tree; the balsam a mere shrub: if a branch, when swollen with sap, is pierced with steel, the veins shrivel up; so a piece of stone or a potsherd is used to open them; the juice is employed by physicians. of the mountains, Lebanon rises to the greatest height, and is in fact a marvel, for in the midst of the excessive heat its summit is shaded by trees and covered with snow; it likewise is the source and supply of the river Jordan. This river does not empty into the sea, but after flowing with volume undiminished through two lakes is lost in the third. The last is a lake of great size: it is like the sea, but its water has a nauseous taste, and its offensive odour is injurious to those who live near it. Its waters are not moved by the wind, and neither fish nor water-fowl can live there. Its lifeless waves bear up whatever is thrown upon them as on a solid surface; all swimmers, whether skilled or not, are buoyed up by them. At a certain season of the year the sea throws up bitumen, and experience has taught the natives how to collect this, as she teaches all arts. Bitumen is by nature a dark fluid which coagulates when sprinkled with vinegar, and swims on the surface. Those whose business it is, catch hold of it with their hands and haul it on shipboard: then with no artificial aid the bitumen flows in and loads the ship until the stream is cut off. Yet you cannot use bronze or iron to cut the bituminous stream; it shrinks from blood or from a cloth stained with a woman's menses. Such is the story told by ancient writers, but those who are acquainted with the country aver that the floating masses of bitumen are driven by the winds or drawn by hand to shore, where later, after they have been dried by vapours from the earth or by the heat of the sun, they are split like timber or stone with axes and wedges. 5.7.  Not far from this lake is a plain which, according to report, was once fertile and the site of great cities, but which was later devastated by lightning; and it is said that traces of this disaster still exist there, and that the very ground looks burnt and has lost its fertility. In fact, all the plants there, whether wild or cultivated, turn black, become sterile, and seem to wither into dust, either in leaf or in flower or after they have reached their usual mature form. Now for my part, although I should grant that famous cities were once destroyed by fire from heaven, I still think that it is the exhalations from the lake that infect the ground and poison the atmosphere about this district, and that this is the reason that crops and fruits decay, since both soil and climate are deleterious. The river Belus also empties into the Jewish Sea; around its mouth a kind of sand is gathered, which when mixed with soda is fused into glass. The beach is of moderate size, but it furnishes an inexhaustible supply. 5.8.  A great part of Judea is covered with scattered villages, but there are some towns also; Jerusalem is the capital of the Jews. In it was a temple possessing enormous riches. The first line of fortifications protected the city, the next the palace, and the innermost wall the temple. Only a Jew might approach its doors, and all save the priests were forbidden to cross the threshold. While the East was under the dominion of the Assyrians, Medes, and Persians, the Jews were regarded as the meanest of their subjects: but after the Macedonians gained supremacy, King Antiochus endeavoured to abolish Jewish superstition and to introduce Greek civilization; the war with the Parthians, however, prevented his improving this basest of peoples; for it was exactly at that time that Arsaces had revolted. Later on, since the power of Macedon had waned, the Parthians were not yet come to their strength, and the Romans were far away, the Jews selected their own kings. These in turn were expelled by the fickle mob; but recovering their throne by force of arms, they banished citizens, destroyed towns, killed brothers, wives, and parents, and dared essay every other kind of royal crime without hesitation; but they fostered the national superstition, for they had assumed the priesthood to support their civil authority. 5.9.  The first Roman to subdue the Jews and set foot in their temple by right of conquest was Gnaeus Pompey; thereafter it was a matter of common knowledge that there were no representations of the gods within, but that the place was empty and the secret shrine contained nothing. The walls of Jerusalem were razed, but the temple remained standing. Later, in the time of our civil wars, when these eastern provinces had fallen into the hands of Mark Antony, the Parthian prince, Pacorus, seized Judea, but he was slain by Publius Ventidius, and the Parthians were thrown back across the Euphrates: the Jews were subdued by Gaius Sosius. Antony gave the throne to Herod, and Augustus, after his victory, increased his power. After Herod's death, a certain Simon assumed the name of king without waiting for Caesar's decision. He, however, was put to death by Quintilius Varus, governor of Syria; the Jews were repressed; and the kingdom was divided into three parts and given to Herod's sons. Under Tiberius all was quiet. Then, when Caligula ordered the Jews to set up his statue in their temple, they chose rather to resort to arms, but the emperor's death put an end to their uprising. The princes now being dead or reduced to insignificance, Claudius made Judea a province and entrusted it to Roman knights or to freedmen; one of the latter, Antonius Felix, practised every kind of cruelty and lust, wielding the power of king with all the instincts of a slave; he had married Drusilla, the grand-daughter of Cleopatra and Antony, and so was Antony's grandson-in‑law, while Claudius was Antony's grandson. 5.10.  Still the Jews' patience lasted until Gessius Florus became procurator: in his time war began. When Cestius Gallus, governor of Syria, tried to stop it, he suffered varied fortunes and met defeat more often than he gained victory. On his death, whether in the course of nature or from vexation, Nero sent out Vespasian, who, aided by his good fortune and reputation as well as by his excellent subordinates, within two summers occupied with his victorious army the whole of the level country and all the cities except Jerusalem. The next year was taken up with civil war, and thus was passed in inactivity so far as the Jews were concerned. When peace had been secured throughout Italy, foreign troubles began again; and the fact that the Jews alone had failed to surrender increased our resentment; at the same time, having regard to all the possibilities and hazards of a new reign, it seemed expedient for Titus to remain with the army.


Subjects of this text:

subject book bibliographic info
anger, divine Shannon-Henderson, Power Play in Latin Love Elegy and its Multiple Forms of Continuity in Ovid’s (2019) 16
decemuiri sacris faciundis Davies, Rome's Religious History: Livy, Tacitus and Ammianus on their Gods (2004) 205
decline, of religion Davies, Rome's Religious History: Livy, Tacitus and Ammianus on their Gods (2004) 205
expiation Davies, Rome's Religious History: Livy, Tacitus and Ammianus on their Gods (2004) 205
ficus ruminalis Davies, Rome's Religious History: Livy, Tacitus and Ammianus on their Gods (2004) 205
gods, agency deduced Davies, Rome's Religious History: Livy, Tacitus and Ammianus on their Gods (2004) 205
gods, intervention Davies, Rome's Religious History: Livy, Tacitus and Ammianus on their Gods (2004) 205
histories, prodigies and omens in Shannon-Henderson, Power Play in Latin Love Elegy and its Multiple Forms of Continuity in Ovid’s (2019) 16
ira deorum Davies, Rome's Religious History: Livy, Tacitus and Ammianus on their Gods (2004) 205
julio-claudian dynasty Shannon-Henderson, Power Play in Latin Love Elegy and its Multiple Forms of Continuity in Ovid’s (2019) 16
nero, and signs Davies, Rome's Religious History: Livy, Tacitus and Ammianus on their Gods (2004) 205
pax deorum Davies, Rome's Religious History: Livy, Tacitus and Ammianus on their Gods (2004) 205
phoenix Davies, Rome's Religious History: Livy, Tacitus and Ammianus on their Gods (2004) 205
prodigies, symbolic Davies, Rome's Religious History: Livy, Tacitus and Ammianus on their Gods (2004) 205
prodigies, under claudius Davies, Rome's Religious History: Livy, Tacitus and Ammianus on their Gods (2004) 205
prodigies, under tiberius (lack of) Davies, Rome's Religious History: Livy, Tacitus and Ammianus on their Gods (2004) 205
prodigies Shannon-Henderson, Power Play in Latin Love Elegy and its Multiple Forms of Continuity in Ovid’s (2019) 16
ritual, error Davies, Rome's Religious History: Livy, Tacitus and Ammianus on their Gods (2004) 205
senate, failure of authority Davies, Rome's Religious History: Livy, Tacitus and Ammianus on their Gods (2004) 205
syria, interest in religious material Shannon-Henderson, Power Play in Latin Love Elegy and its Multiple Forms of Continuity in Ovid’s (2019) 16
ultio' Shannon-Henderson, Power Play in Latin Love Elegy and its Multiple Forms of Continuity in Ovid’s (2019) 16